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The Village Idiot, The Lumberjacks, and Me

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Flawed First Impressions

We are all guilty of, at one time or another, making a quick judgment about a person or situation that later turns out to be false. This is human, and we can learn from such events to be less judgmental. I could fill a book with such events in my life, but one recently came to mind that made a significant impact.

It was 1986, and mid-morning on a Tuesday after a meeting of The Inside Edge, the leadership support group Louise Hay, Jack Canfield, Barbara De Angelis, and I were founding board members of. I went to the very upscale Beverly Center to see a lovely film from Czechoslovakia, My Sweet Little Village, whose main character was a gentle village idiot.

The theaters are on the top floor, so after the movie was over, I got on an elevator. A rather shabbily dressed man, who bore an amazingly strong resemblance to the village idiot in the film, and even seemed a bit slow, made eye contact with me (something almost never seen in Beverly Hills) and blurted out, “Who are you and what do you do?”

He repeated this several times and I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. Finally I answered him, but not before the elevator doors opened and two huge burly men in flannel shirts entered. Only the lack of an axe left the picture of two lumberjacks incomplete. I had already started talking and said, “My name is Jerry Gillies and I write books.”  I was expecting either a look of derision or some kind of sarcastic remark from the two lumberjacks.

One of them then absolutely struck me dumb by saying, “Are you the author of MoneyLove?”  I hesitatingly said I was, and he broke into a big smile and offered me his huge hand to shake. He said, “That’s my wife’s favorite book, she keeps it on her night table. Someone told her about it at Agape Center, which we attend every week.”  As I had attended Agape myself and even did a talk there once, and many of my fellow Inside Edge members were regulars there, the atmosphere in the elevator immediately changed. The other lumberjack said he was planning to buy my book based on his friend’s recommendation. And the elevator felt like a warm, welcoming, workshop environment even including my disheveled original fellow passenger.

It turned out the two men were not lumberjacks at all, but co-owned a hardware store. As I headed home I pondered my being so wrong with my first impression, and even smiled at the thought that my sweet village idiot lookalike was probably actually a distinguished college professor.

And, of course, if it weren’t for that man actually reaching out and speaking to a stranger in an elevator, none of this would have happened. The four passengers would have silently ridden to the bottom and gone on with their lives.  So that raises two questions I have for you.

1. Can you think of a first impression, an initial judgment, you had about someone that turned out to be dramatically wrong?

2. Can you remember a time when someone else did or said something that totally changed what would have been a mundane event into something else?

Jerry

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